Category: Campaigning

Corby by-election: British Tories all talk on wind power

by Adam Corner

There are few cardinal sins in politics – but campaigning on behalf of your opponent has to be one of them. So when news broke this week that the British Conservative Party MP Chris Heaton Harris had boasted on camera of providing resources and support to an opposition anti-wind farm candidate in order to “cause some hassle”, it was widely expected that the axe would fall.

But instead, as the story developed, it transpired that this was a trail that led to the very centre of the Conservative Party.

In the end, the manouverings came to naught – Labour won the by-election easily, the first time it has taken a seat from the Tories in a by-election since just before Tony Blair’s seismic 1997 general election victory.

Heaton-Harris was caught in an undercover sting by the environmental campaign group Greenpeace. He was bragging that he had backed the anti-wind farm election campaign of the blogger and self-publicist James Delingpole, a far-right commentator whose pantomime-villain outbursts are typically treated as undeserving of serious engagement. Among the climate-sceptic elements of the Conservative Party, however, Delingpole appears to have carved out a role for himself as the mouthpiece for views that they dare not air in public.

Delingpole stood down as a candidate in the Corby by-election several weeks ago, prior to the video emerging. But not before the energy minister, John Hayes, gave an interview declaring that “enough was enough” for on shore wind. This was seemingly in direct contrast to official government policy, which favours a range of renewable technologies as part of an increasingly low-carbon energy mix.

And in potentially even more serious developments, a second Greenpeace film appeared to show the Chancellor, George Osborne, implicated in a plot to withdraw government support for onshore wind. This is despite its huge value to the British economy as a fully operational low-carbon technology.

When David Cameron boldly proclaimed that his would be the “greenest government ever”, following his election in 2010, he must have known the boast would come back to haunt him. And, although the UK is (currently) a world leader in terms of legally binding carbon reduction targets, some members of the Conservative Party look like they are doing everything they can to ensure these targets are unlikely to be met.

The Conservative central command would like to paint anti-wind zealots like Heaton-Harris as existing on the lunatic fringe of the party. But increasingly, it is looking like the MPs who represent the rural constituencies where wind turbines are typically sited are having a disproportionate effect on the Conservative Party. Although there has been no formal shift in energy policy, the “mood music” around the environment on the British right is worrying.

To be clear: opposing the siting of a wind farm cannot be equated with climate change scepticism. But the willingness of Conservative party representatives to promote and publicise the views of hardline anti-environmentalists like James Delingpole does not send out a good signal. And opposing on-shore wind without suggesting an alternative policy for reducing levels of carbon dioxide is tantamount to dismissing the risks that climate change poses.

The relationship between climate change scepticism and political ideology has been documented repeatedly and consistently in the US, the UK and Australia. But how to address it is an altogether trickier question.

There is a proud tradition of conservation and respect for the natural environment in the history of British Conservatism. But the “conserve” part of conservatism currently seems to apply only to the hyper-local, with debate focusing on the aesthetics of wind-farms instead of the value of clean, green energy for the whole of the UK.

Ultimately, the Conservative Party will lose its hard-fought status as an (allegedly) moderate, modern, compassionate, centre-right group if it associates itself with the extreme views of individuals like Delingpole. If the Conservatives don’t want wind farms across the UK, their challenge is to identify and implement another set of policies that will allow Britain’s carbon targets to be achieved – with the consent of the electorate.

Despite the noises coming from climate-sceptic Conservative MPs, wind farms – and renewable technologies in general – are very popular with the public. They are certainly more popular than nuclear power or fossil fuels.

Few credible energy future scenarios see no role for on-shore wind. If the Conservatives have evidence to the contrary, they should speak up. If not, they need to find a way of convincing their voters that climate change is the biggest threat to the environment that they supposedly want to conserve so much – not the wind turbines that can provide clean, abundant energy for the future.

Adam Corner is  a Research Associate in the Understanding Risk research group at Cardiff University.

This article was first published at


Let’s keep Alan Jones

by John August

Many people, via the internet and elsewhere, have been persuading advertisers previously on Alan Jones’ program to withdraw their advertising after Jones’ latest hurtful comments against Gillard. Is this censorship ? Some people want Jones “sacked”, which would be censorship, that’s not what I’m after. I don’t want to stop him broadcasting, but I do want to reduce the financial worth of his show.

I certainly don’t agree with harassing advertisers. If we’re to claim the moral high ground, we must politely point out how we feel to advertisers, and stop buying their products if they persist with Jones – but no more. Our actions should speak for themselves, with the market mediating their effect. Otherwise, we’re subject to the hypocritical attack that bullying is somehow worse when we do it – as compared to when Jones does it – when it’s OK. Not fair, but that’s how it is – the other side have never played fair.

It’s a boycott. Originally, Charles C Boycott, after ignoring calls to charge less rent – found himself shunned by mailmen, servants, shopkeepers and others. The most well known boycott is against Nestles, for formula milk in third world countries. But, even without a boycott, we’ve always been able to buy what we want – things like free-range eggs and dolphin safe tuna.

Previously, Marrickville council chose to boycott products from Israel. Forgetting how feasible it was, it’s every councils’ choice to make its own purchasing decisions, so long as there’s a council resolution. They weren’t trying to control anyone else’s consumption choices ( which would be illegal ) – only their own. There’s no issue. And, equally, just as we can buy what we want, suppliers can sell what they want. It’s their choice. Much as those “Plain milk, no soy, no exotics, just coffee” cafes may annoy us, they can offer what like. As long as they’re not discriminating against different customers, it’s their choice.

And – ultimately – we can choose not to buy products advertised by Jones.

However, if you’re choosing not to buy something because of what the supplier is doing, it’s a good idea to tell them. Otherwise, they might think sales dropped because the wind just happened to change direction, and have no idea they can do something to improve their sales. So – again – tell them politely about what you’re doing.

Yes, harassment is bad, but at the same time using it as an excuse to stick with Jones is pretty lame. You’re justified in supporting an obnoxious shockjock, but only because people are trying to stop you ? What if people weren’t trying to stop you ? What would you do then ? It’s also no excuse to say that you’re just buying advertising, and don’t “support” Alan Jones. You don’t just buy advertising – you “buy into” Jones.

That claim has been echoed by 2GB’s boss, Russel Tate, claiming it’s a private and commercial arrangement, with advertisers only wanting Jones’ audience without seeking to endorse Jones. I don’t think so. You buy into the whole deal. Jones is a powerful persona, able to attract a loyal audience. You don’t passively buy that strength, any more than you can passively make a deal with the Devil. Identification with Jones comes as an integral part of the package.

The issue is whether 2GB should be able to make money from Alan Jones without the advertisers being held accountable by consumers. Advertisers should always be free to advertise on Jones program. And we should not waste our freedom to make an organised response.

Jones is quite a piece of work. He’s been pissing off a lot of people for a long time. Yes a democracy should be a “plurality”. But it is strange how the well resourced with obnoxious platforms and positions who spread falsehoods are the very people who hide behind the defence of “freedom of speech”.

But Jones has done more than expressed opinions. He has expressed falsehoods and caused harm. Hiding behind “freedom of speech” is a bit rich. He’s already put his foot in his mouth numerous times, and has been embroiled in numerous court cases. There’s a strong pent-up feeling, and this is the straw that broke the camel’s back. People have been complaining about Jones for as long as we can all remember – to no effect. We’ve been ignored by the station – and so have been forced to do something else. If he previously shot himself in the foot, this time he’s managed to blow away his whole leg.

In a sense this isn’t news. We all knew how Jones really felt. I’m not surprised by what Jones said. Yawn. And maybe this drip-by-drip saturation coverage progression was even less news. But the media are like a pack of wolves. They’ve found a new scent, and after pursuing their quarry, have started to circle. They’re looking for weakness, like Jones did when the shoe was on the other foot. That’s what they do. No surprise there, either.

Sure, advertise with Jones and access his audience. You’ll get some sales – at the same time as non-listeners might stop buying. And perhaps that loss will exceed the gain that Jones so kindly gave you.

Over time, perhaps we’ll start to catalogue these choices – and we’ll be able to quantify this loss and report it to advertisers. We need to make a credible case, and show just how much the dollar value of their sales has declined. If they’re concerned about sales, if they’re concerned about the value of their brand, if they’re concerned about shareholder value – they’ll have to take it on board. All very polite. No harassment. Business is business, after all.

Is this censorship ? No, it’s the market at work.

We’re advertised at. Advertisers ramp up their organisation to persuade us to part with our money. At times, we’ll even buy stuff on a false apprehension. It’s rarely an issue. Now, we’re becoming organised in reaction to the situation, participating in the market, and are more aware of our consumption decisions. Isn’t that the whole idea ? Why would anyone complain?

Still, there’s a bit more to it. If you run a restaurant, it doesn’t matter how many people refuse to eat there, so long as you can get enough Jones supporters to fill it. Some small traders will be able embrace Jones – and the market will provide. Not a problem. Leave them to wallow in the swamp … they’re welcome to it.

However, if you’re running a larger business, these relative numbers count – we’re talking about total sales over a whole city, not just how many people will fill a restaurant. There’ll always be competitors – including smaller businesses who don’t support Jones – and you’ll be using Jones to guide your customers to them.

We all know how the total Jones listenership is in fact pretty low. Jones has a disproportionate influence compared to the number of people who actually listen. Yes, yes. The Jones phenomenon. We know that.

At some point there will be a crossover, and Jones will be denied advertising from businesses greater than a particular size. If anyone wants to have a go at calculating it, let me know what it is. But, for the moment, all we need to know is that there is such a size. So, rather than running a radio “show”, the Jones’ program will become what will be effectively a private podcast, supported by advertisers who are members of his tribe. It might as well be the “podcast listeners” – and it just happens to be broadcast on AM radio rather than actually be a podcast.

It will, nevertheless, be quite an improvement. Jones and his supporters, collected together in a circle, squinting, looking at the outside world, paranoid, isolated and worried. The Jones fishbowl, only now it will be so much more obvious. And rather less profitable, too.

Actually, I never would have had a problem with Alan Jones running a private podcast for those who want to listen. Or a paper or email newsletter. No censorship, remember ?

I find it easy to believe that, with a little organisation, we can make the number of people choosing not to buy because of Jones exceed those who would have because of him – at least, for the larger firms. Now, and sustainably into the future. I dearly hope so. We’ll have to wait and see. Certainly, I’ll continue to do my bit.

Along the way many firms will have publicly distanced themselves from him. A few businesses will persist as die-hard supporters, but that’s no issue.

The market at work. Delivering better outcomes for us all. Let us all kneel before the altar of capitalism. Lovely. Facilitated by the market, our individual wills influence production decisions in the world around us, making it a better place for us all. It’s so nice when things work.

Let’s hope the market works properly in this case … Why would we expect otherwise ?

My yard, my candidate: the social psychology of lawn signs

As the November elections draw nearer, front yards across America are sprouting campaigns signs broadcasting their chosen political candidates.

These lawn signs have been a traditional part of politics in the United States for well over 60 years, and have remained commonplace even in the age of Facebook and other new media. Lawn signs can often feel ubiquitous in the build-up to major elections, yet in actuality most Americans don’t display them. However, more than enough voters are posting signs for Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on their front yards – and apartment balconies and businesses and dorm windows and roadsides – to keep the tradition alive and well.

Some communities seem to be a sea of signs all supporting the same candidate, perhaps with the odd sign here and there that defiantly displays a contrary opinion. Other communities are more divided politically, and in places such as these lawn signs are a critical way of showing just what side you stand on. Yet whether people live in an area that is strongly in favour of one party or one that is more contested, displaying a lawn sign is more than just campaigning for a specific politician, doing one’s civic duty, or even conforming to neighbourhood norms.

Lawn signs are also about communicating our group membership to others, something that fulfils some very basic psychological needs. People want to feel accepted, and putting up a lawn sign literally symbolises that they are part of a group. What’s more, they gain strength from their group memberships and symbols. For example, Chris Miller at the University of Minnesota found that after the 2008 election, signs supporting the victorious Obama stayed up longer than signs supporting his defeated opponent John McCain. This suggests that people use lawn signs to “bask in the reflected glory” of their group’s success and “cut off the reflected failure” of their group’s losses. Thus, lawn signs can help us feel accepted and feel good about ourselves.

Yet despite their widespread usage and the psychological advantages just described, whether or not lawn signs are effective in winning elections is not clear. For presidential campaigns, lawn signs are all about social influence: capturing the all-important swing voters and motivating supporters to actually turn up at the polls come Election Day. Unfortunately, there is little direct evidence supporting that lawn signs can achieve these goals. However, recent research from the Attitudes and Group Identity Lab at the University of California, Davis, indirectly suggests lawn signs can be an effective source of social influence, though that this effectiveness may depend upon how far away the election is.

With my collaborator Alison Ledgerwood, we found that temporal distance – whether something will happen in the near future versus distant future – influences the degree to which people are affected by majority opinions versus single individuals. In our experiments, undergraduate students read about proposed changes to a political issue that they were told would go into effect in the near or distant future, as well how the majority of other students ostensibly felt about these changes.

When the changes were expected to occur in the distant future, our participants’ own opinions on the issue were more influenced by group opinion; that is, they conformed to the majority. But when the changes were expected to occur in the near future, participants’ opinions were less susceptible to group influence. These results complement findings from an earlier paper by our lab that suggest as events draw nearer in time, people are more influenced by the opinion of a single individual.

But what does this mean for lawn signs? As the election is currently over a month away, a large bloc of signs for Obama is likely to have more of an effect on a person’s vote than a lone sign for Romney. However, as the weeks fly by and the election draws nearer, a single sign on a specific person’s yard may start to have more of an effect.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that large numbers of signs for one candidate will ever be meaningless, even if Election Day is close. Distance affects the information people attend to for a reason: distance can lead to abstract, big-picture thinking (“why”) whereas proximity can lead to concrete, fine-details thinking (“how”). Even as the election draws close, encouraging people to think about the big picture can put them in an abstract mindset that pays more attention to the majority of lawn signs.

Thus, there’s more to lawn signs than tradition and a candidate’s name. It’s not simply an issue of which side has more signs posted, but also the mindset of the person viewing the sign. And lawn signs may not only help the candidate, but also may help the person posting the sign meet some of their basic psychological needs.

Not bad for laminated cardboard.

Shannon Callahan is a Social Psychology PhD student at University of California, Davis

First published online at Online Opinion


We don’t have a day to lose: Julia Gillard

I’m sure you’ll have closely followed the leadership election.

I share the frustration of many Labor Party members when you see the Party turning inwards.

Well yesterday we put that behind us. I received the overwhelming support of my colleagues to continue as Labor’s Leader and as Prime Minister.  I thank them for their faith in me and my capacity to lead the nation.

Members of the ALP are passionate people – it’s because we have a great cause. And that is the welfare and the well-being of our great country.

Our determination to build a stronger and fairer Australia could not be greater – and ultimately, that outweighs everything else.

For the record, I would like to acknowledge the many achievements of Kevin Rudd as a former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

We must honour without reservation Kevin’s leadership during the global financial crisis, his proud achievements for reconciliation, his strong advocacy for his nation on the world stage and so much more.

As we face the future, I accept there are things I need to do better.

The fact is that while good policy stands on its own, the job of governments is to strongly advocate for that policy, to strongly advocate for change.  And we need to do that better – to make the case, to explain it fully, to connect each of our reforms to our vision for Australia. 

I don’t have a defeatist bone in my body and I know that if we unite and work hard we will win in 2013 and entrench our reforms.

I know there’s a lot of work to do to convince the Australian people that we’re on track.

And we all understand that we don’t have a day to lose.

My commitment to you as ALP members is to continue to be guided by what is right for the country – not newspaper polls; to govern for working people first; to ensure they’re the biggest beneficiaries of our strong economy – and not just the fortunate few.

Above all, to keep on getting things done in the interests of working Australians.

Words are important, but action is even more so. I’m proud of what my government has delivered, but I’m not satisfied.

Because there’s so much more to do.

This year we will be moving on with our agenda.  Rolling out the National Broadband Network.  Putting a price on carbon and building a clean energy economy.  Introducing new ideas for schools. Helping workers who need new skills.  And taking the next steps in introducing a National Disability Insurance Scheme.

I look forward to your ongoing support and involvement as we continue with our great objective.

Julia Gillard
Prime Minister


The Precariat – The new dangerous class

by Guy Standing

For the first time in history, the mainstream left has no progressive agenda. It has forgotten a basic principle. Every progressive political movement has been built on the anger, needs and aspirations of the emerging major class. Today that class is the precariat.

So far, the precariat in Europe has been mostly engaged in EuroMayDay parades and loosely organised protests. But this is changing rapidly, as events in Spain and Greece are showing, following on the precariat-led uprisings in the middle-east. Remember that welfare states were built only when the working class mobilised through collective action to demand the relevant policies and institutions. The precariat is busy defining its demands.

The precariat has emerged from the liberalisation that underpinned globalisation. Politicians should beware. It is a new dangerous class, not yet what Karl Marx would have described as a class-for-itself, but a class-in-the-making, internally divided into angry and bitter factions.

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